The campaign for the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels is alive, well and going from strength to strength. Thanks largely to parliamentary pressure, 2007 has been a very productive year so far.
In February Sharon Hodgson, MP for Gateshead East and Washington West, raised the issue with Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions. In saying "I am happy to give any support I can to make sure that as many people as possible in the North East get access to a huge cultural icon for people there", the Prime Minister was sufficiently positive to give further hope to the cause. And to apply more pressure to the British Library.
The British Library's main (stated) objection to relocation is the condition of the Gospels themselves. A report commissioned by them says the manuscript sustained damage when it last came to the North. This was in spite of great care being taken to ensure the temperature and humidity were kept constant and the light levels low.
The Northumbrian Association, the voluntary run charity that kick started and runs the campaign for a return, has now successfully challenged this report and the library has agreed to commission another one consulting experts in the region.
The association meanwhile has stepped up its campaign to repudiate the British Library's objections and galvanise opinion in the North East. Recent activities include the online petition started on the association's website that already boasts thousands of signatures and the production of `Return our Gospels' car stickers.
Whilst no one involved in the campaign wants to see the Gospels damaged in any way, it is hard to believe that the North-East cannot provide the same level of care as a library in central London. Certainly more care would be taken in transferring the Gospels home than was taken when they were stolen in the first place, `losing' their exquisite binding.
Our campaign has enjoyed phenomenal success so far: 180,000 people visited the Gospels when we won the opportunity to showcase them in the Laing. Ours is without question a just cause and, though it may take time, we will get there in the end.
In the meantime, shouldn't we be celebrating St Cuthbert's Day?
The Government is proposing a new public holiday to be named something along the lines of Great Britain Day. Almost anything that results in a day off for some of the hardest working people in Europe sounds like a good idea to me.
What is more difficult to understand is why the English expend so little energy on celebrating the days of our patron saints. Pubs go all out for St Patrick, to the extent an alien might think they'd landed in Ireland. By comparison, for St George, and in the North-East also St Cuthbert, many make relatively small effort.
It's a bit hard to believe we'll be out celebrating a Great Britain Day when we don't seem to bother very much with those days we should already be proud of.
Cuthbert is the North-East's own special saint, to whom the Gospels were dedicated and from whom they were never meant to be parted. In recent years the Northumbrian Association has set out to mark this day with events and this is gathering momentum.
The St Cuthbert's Day walk, sponsored by Northumbrian Water, now attracts participants from across the region. It would be nice if these efforts, still somewhat in their infancy, could grow into a more widespread celebration of our unique heritage and be yet another opportunity to press for the return of our Gospels.
* Fay Tinnion is a trustee of the Northumbrian Association (website: www.northumbrianassociation.com)